Super sophomore season sets up NJ’s Bardzell for big 2018 campaign

By Bob Behre


Ashton Bardzell did not commit a single error in the outfield in 42 games his freshman season at the University of Hartford. That sterling play in the field did not, in his mind, translate well to his experience at the plate for the Hawks.

“The difference for me from my freshman to my sophomore season was developing a better mental approach at the plate,” said Bardzell, who bashed his way into New Jersey’s scholastic record book as a senior at Ramsey High School. Bardzell hit 18 home runs in 2015 to tie Mike Trout’s single-season record set at Millville High in 2009.

Bardzell’s remarkable senior season at Ramsey, which included a .586 batting average, 55 RBI and 54 runs scored, surely set up some unreasonable expectations for his freshman year at college. But the 6-2, 205-pound Bardzell put forth some very reasonable numbers, numbers most freshmen would view as positive.

Bardzell batted .268, hit seven doubles, two triples and five home runs while driving in 28 runs and scoring 28 runs in 40 of his team’s 55 games. He also boasted an .824 OPS. Most Division 1 college freshmen battle for playing time, never mind produce at a rate their team relies upon. But Bardzell, who was, after all, named to the conference’s All-Rookie Team, knew he was better than a .268 hitter and capable of better production. He would turn that positive freshman experience into a breakout sophomore campaign.

“Freshman year I went up to the plate in a more defensive mode, not really confident in what I was looking for,” said Bardzell. “Sophomore year I was really set on doing damage to pitches that were in my zone and not chasing.”

When Bardzell spoke to after his freshman season he seemed resolved for a breakout sophomore year. “Just getting the one year under my belt changes everything,” he said at the time. He would show that in a big way at the plate last spring. Bardzell would lead the American East Conference with a .343 batting average, 43 RBI and a .619 slugging percentage. Bardzell also led Hartford in doubles (13), triples (5), home runs (9) and walks (38). He would conclude the season with a gaudy .457 on-base percentage and a robust 1.076 OPS.

He was named to the American Baseball Coaches Association All-Northeast First Team.

Another strong season at Hartford could very well prove professionally beneficial for Bardzell with Major League Baseball’s First-Year Players Draft lurking in early June. At least one draft prognosticator, the website, views Bardzell as a potential selection in the top three rounds of the Draft. “Bardzell is a really impressive athlete with above average raw power, above average-to-plus wheels, an easy, plus arm and solid range in the outfield. I think he has a chance to become a major college star this season and a top three (minimum) round pick.”

Draft prognostications in November and December can be very different than those in April and May, which truly is a much better time to wade into that unpredictable pool. That said, there is no telling where Bardzell could land should he back up his excellent sophomore season with an equally productive junior year.

“I’m very excited for this season,” said Bardzell. “I think we have a great group of guys that can win a lot of games, so it should be a fun season. Personally, I’m just going to worry about winning games and do whatever I can to make that possible. I’m just going to go out there and enjoy the time I have with my teammates.”

Despite his prodigious high school numbers, Bardzell was not drafted in 2015, the pro scouts perhaps waiting to see more from the speedy outfielder at the collegiate level. His two seasons at Hartford certainly seem to have demanded the scouts’ undivided attention.

St. Peter’s Prep grad T.J. Ward, a 6-1, 220-pound senior third baseman, is the only other Garden Stater on the Hartford roster. Ward started 38 games last year, batting  .235 with 31 hits, including five home runs. He drove in 32 runs and scored 23 runs.